written by Cristobal Hiche
NBL (Game 1) Herts Falcons 2 Southampton Mustangs 0 (click to view box scores)
If last week games were close, these games were literally down to the wire. Both games were decided in the last 2 innings. The first game was a pitching duel between injured Robbie Unsell and Gary Davison for Southampton Mustangs. The duel was so good that Robbie ended up with 10K and Gary with 5K. Clearly not much was happening on the field and solid defence on both sides kept more or less the bases empty. Both teams had a few men on base. While Mustangs tried playing small ball to advance the runners, Falcons were looking for line drives to spark a rally. In the bottom of the 6th, Falcons 2nd batter Phil Clark managed to walk and all indicated Falcons should try to play small ball and advance the runner. However the dilemma for manager Lee Manning was that the heart of the order (3rd-5th batter) was coming up. Ryan Bird solved this dilemma by hitting the 1st pitch deep into RF. A blast that put Herts 2-0 ahead and psychologically KO’ing Southampton. They couldn’t do anything on top of the 7th with Robbie striking out the last 2 batters. A solid, much-needed win for a Falcons that didn’t have the starting line-up. Dave House, Jordan Farkas, Dave Tretheway, and Xavi Gonzalez were all missing this afternoon. However, AAA call-ups Louie Hare and Mike Cattlemore, and the season debut of Kevin Niedringhaus and Felix Perez did a tremendous job to minimise the absence of the regular players.
NBL (Game 2) Herts Falcons 4 Southampton Mustangs 3 (click to view box scores)
The second game was no different. Mustangs were able to score 1 run in the top of the 1st and Falcons couldn’t get anything going in their favour. But in the bottom of the 3rd all of a sudden Falcons looked like the team we used to see last year. Everybody started to hit or being selective at the plate, drawing walks. The result was 4 runs in one inning which we haven’t seen since the game against Nationals a few months ago. Michael Osborn, who before this game had a lifetime record of 5-0 against Southampton, was keeping their bats quite with his nasty curveball. The curveball was impressive as seen from the press box but that meant that Michael’s arm was getting a bit tired and Mustangs managed to score a run thanks to a solo HR by Alberto Rodriguez. Falcons allowed the Mustangs to load the bases but Osborn used his remaining energy to induce ex-Falcons player Kimiyoshi Saionji to a pop-fly to end the inning. Manager Lee Manning took the right decision to bring Robbie Unsell who was sitting on the bench due to his injury to come and close the game. It was a gamble since Robbie had already pitched 7 innings and Mustangs knew what to look for. Southampton managed to have men on 1st and 3rd thanks to a dropped 3rd strike that Lee Manning couldn’t properly handle. The reason was that Lee had just come into the game due to (again!) a minor injury to starting catcher Dave Westfallen and Robbie’s slider was wicked all day long. Lee didn’t expect that big drop at the end of the pitch. However, in a very strange decision that will leave many Mustang fans puzzled, Justin Frosina who was 1-3 in the game, was sent to try the squeeze play not once, not twice, but 3 times and that meant he bunted foul with 2 strikes which is an automatic strikeout. And to add drama to this ending, another nasty slider meant Lee had to block the ball which escaped just a few feet down the 3rd base side. Alberto Rodriguez decided to take the risk and steal home and in a very close play at home he was tagged out by Robbie Unsell who went to cover the plate. Unfortunately he re-injured his ankle. This meant it wasn’t much of a victory celebration as all teammates went to home plate to check on him. He had to be carried off the field and in a class act, all Southampton players clapped to wish Robbie all the best in his recovery.
Lee Manning said after the game: “Our pitching and defence were amazing today. We got some timely hitting but our hitting still needs to improve a bit.” Asked if it’s still a worry that Falcons are not scoring many runs, Falcons manager replied: “[Given the amount of injuries] I’m not too worried about the lack of hitting. Once we get our 9 starters I think our hitting will pick up. Now it’s a matter to win enough games to get us into the post-season. These 2 victories take us a bit closer to that goal.” On the other side of the field we were given a similar analysis: “[Both games] were hard fought. I think for both sides they were not bad games. These two low-scoring games went against expectations given the offensive power we both have shown in the past. We’re obviously not happy with the two losses and with the amount of runs that we scored”.
Both games were fantastic and as a reporter I will allow myself to give an opinion. Although I agree with both managers that these have been very good offensively teams in the past and the box scores for today clearly shows a lack of that, I think they were not just good games. I think they were MLB type games. I think this does not reflect that hitting was missing but rather that pitching has greatly improved. As a reporter who has covered many leagues around the world, it is always the case that pitching is always behind hitting. You just need to look no further than lower-tier leagues here in the UK where most games end up with 20+ runs. The average MLB game is only about 8 runs. Thus to me these games were better quality, still with some offensive action (2HR, one in each game by each team), close plays, close calls, and every single error by all those involved in the field can make a big difference. What does this mean? Better quality baseball in the UK and an open invitation to all fans to come down support Herts Falcons knowing you’ll have a great experience at the ballpark!